The Teacup Chronicles

Tag: Health

Roasted dandelion, chicory and cacoa nib coffee

Today was one of those delicious rainy autumn days, where you feel perfectly content to curl up with a good book and a cup of something hot.  I’ve been experimenting lately with some roasted dandelion coffee blends, and today I think I found a winner. The brew is slightly chocolaty, complex, dark and almost nutty with a hint of earthy bitterness – a most perfect accompaniment to my rainy day coziness.

Dandelion, cacoa and chicory are all great sources of the bitterness we need this time of year to ground ourselves and strengthen  our roots – and by roasting them, we warm up some of the cooling effects of the bitter taste and make them more nourishing and sweet. The bitterness gently tonifies our entire digestive tract, enhancing the secretion of all digestive juices and ensuring we extract the nutrition from the foods we eat. This digestive stimulation also includes supporting the detoxification work of our livers – which can get botched up by all the heavy foods we tend to favor as the weather cools. The polysaccharide inulin, found in dandelion and chicory, supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in our guts. In short, our whole digestive tract, the center and real “root” of our health, is made very very happy!

The cocoa I like to add for mostly for the gentle stimulation and uplifting impact on the nervous system, which is so helpful for the gray weather blahs that can set in this time of year. Of course you also simultaneously benefit from the plethora of antioxidant polyphenols, the cardiovascular protective effects, and cocoa’s ability to strengthen immune function. (Honestly, I came up with all these reasons after the fact – I really just add cocoa because its delicious!).

You can easily make roasted dandelion and chicory root yourself, although I must admit I cheated a bit and ordered mine pre-roasted from Mountain Rose Herbs. To make yourself, harvest fresh dandelion roots and chicory roots (they are fairly prolific in most yards, and the chicory can be recognized this time of year by those beautiful blue flowers). Wash and scrub the roots well, getting as much grit and dirt off as you can, then chop them into small pieces. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment, and bake in a preheated oven at 250 degrees F until they are nicely shriveled, darkened in color and completely dried out. This process takes about 2 hours, and you will need to stir them from time to time to ensure even drying.

Once you have your ingredients  roasted and ready to go, simply combine the following in a small bowl:

  • 1 cup roasted dandelion
  • 1 cup cocoa nib
  • 1/2 cup roasted chicory root
  • Optional: 1/4 cup hulled cardamom or ginger root

Mix everything together well, then place into a tightly capped jar for storage. When ready to use, coarsely grind a few tablespoons in the coffee grinder. Add 1-2 heaping teaspoon per cup of hot water into a French press or teapot (you can use just like coffee grounds in a regular auto-drip coffee pot or stove top espresso maker as well). Pour hot water over the mixture, let infuse for 5 minutes or so until the liquid becomes a rich and dark brown, then press or strain.

Serve with your favorite milk (I especially like almond milk with this drink), a splash of maple syrup to sweeten if desired, and  a little sprinkling of cinnamon or cardamom powder over the top. Curling up under your comfiest quilt with a good book is highly recommended, but optional.


Quenching your thirst healthfully

I often hear very intelligent people assert that they would never drink a soda due to the sugar content and calories, and then watch them pour a brimming glass of fruit juice or pop open a vitamin water. These choices may seem like healthier alternatives when it comes to choosing a beverage, but in fact, many of these drinks contain just as much if not more sugar and calories than many leading soda beverages.

I can easily see where the confusion arises, reading juice labels that state “no added sugar”, “100% juice”, or “completely natural”. Vitamin waters often claim on their packaging to be superior to water, helping to enhance our endurance and performance levels, while sports drinks advertise themselves as necessary for our complete hydration after exercise or activity. These labels distort our judgment by leading us to several incorrect assumptions.

The first assumption is that because a beverage or product does not contain added sugar, the fruit derived sugars it contains must be healthy. Unfortunately, sugar is sugar – whether it came from an orange or a sugar cane makes little difference to how it will behave in our bodies. While it is true that fruit beverages contain more vitamins and minerals than say, a can of soda, they lack the fiber present in the whole fruit that acts to modulate the absorption of all that sugar in the blood stream. An 8 oz serving of orange juice, for instance, contains 10 teaspoons of sugar and 170 calories (the same as your average serving of cola), while a glass of cranberry juice can contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar and 200 calories! Without the fiber present in the whole fruit, all that sugar dumps directly into the bloodstream and destabilizes our blood sugar balance. This is especially detrimental to children, whose moods and concentration levels are often extremely sensitive to drops in blood sugar. The added sugar also provides unnecessary extra calories, increasing the risk of obesity and ultimately the development of type 2 diabetes.

The second assumption is that vitamin enhanced waters are somehow superior to regular water, necessary for attaining the optimum levels of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, and enhancing our daily performance. Dr. David Katz says it best, “If we had a problem with epidemic malnutrition in this country, a drink such as Vitamin Water might make sense. But since we have, instead, epidemic obesity and diabetes, how about we just leave water alone, instead of using it as a delivery system for sugar no one needs?” One bottle of vitamin water contains 33g of sugar and 125 calories, which is more calories and sugar contained in a 12 oz serving of coke. So while you may think you are doing yourself a favor by radically enhancing your intake of certain vitamins and minerals, what you are really doing is setting yourself up for a sugar crash – and that doesn’t enhance anyone’s performance.

The last assumption we make is that sports drinks are necessary for re-hydrating ourselves after any athletic activity. Yet, the average consumer of such drinks rarely reaches the level of athletic intensity they are designed for. For most consumers, they only deliver unnecessary calories, sugar, and sodium. They also often come in large serving sizes (often 32 oz), encouraging us to drink amounts of sodium and sugar that would be excessive even for Lance Armstrong. A 32 oz serving of Powerade, for example, contains 44g of sugar, 160 mg of sodium and 234 calories.

If all this makes you think choosing a diet soda is a better alternative, think again. Chemicals like aspartame are associated with increased appetite, obesity, and have been linked with neurotoxicity and even cancer. Stevia is a better sugar free substitute, containing a plant compound several times sweeter than sugar, that has no impact on our blood sugar levels.

So, what do we drink? Water, obviously – the ultimate thirst quencher designed by mother nature just for you. But if you want something a little more, try these suggestions:

  • If you must have juice, dilute it half and half with water, especially for children. Overtime, you might even be able to do a 1:4 juice to water ratio, and find it perfectly sweet.
  • For a delicious alternative to sugar laden sodas or fruit juices, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to seltzer water, with a dash of stevia for calorie free, healthy sweetness. Throw in a sprig of peppermint for fun.
  • Try chilled herbal teas, which are flavorful and contain no sugar. My favorites include peppermint, lemon verbena, or hibiscus with a touch of lavender and fresh ginger. Simply make the infusion as normal, then strain and refrigerate till chilled.
  • For an electrolyte rich drink full of vitamins and minerals, try drinking nettle tea – an herb packed full of nutrients. Place   4 tablespoons of the herb into a quart of water and bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes, then strain. Once off the heat, add peppermint or other herbs for flavor if you wish.

Turmeric Popcorn with Seaweed-Nettle Gomasio and Ghee Drizzle

Today is the type of day that you find yourself needing, “a little smackeral of something,” as the wise and noble Pooh bear said. Yes, there are those few glory be-speckled days where you crave carrot sticks and sprouts and feel like hiking up a mountain to unwind, but today is not one. Today is the type of gray, wet, excruciatingly drawn out sort of day that you find yourself trying to put on the sweat pants before you even get through the door after work and want nothing more than to plant yourself on the couch with a pint of ice-cream in one hand and a book full of dark and cynical humor in the other. If someone were to mention that you at one time thought hiking up a mountain was great fun, you would contemptuously chortle (yes chortle) and quickly implant a book between yourself and the face of the person who had suggested something so ridiculous.

So, when I have a day like this, I know that there isn’t going to be any snacking on cold vegetable sticks or yoga marathons, but at least I can try to save myself from the dark abyss of total indulgence. I make  popcorn, and not just any popcorn – popcorn embellished with the guise of health and a good helping of melted ghee.  It is a delicious bargain with myself, a choice of lesser evils, and a glorious trick on the part of my brain that directs me to consume junk food against my better judgement. And, it satisfies in a way that doesn’t make me cringe several hours later when I’ve awoken from my sugar induced coma. In fact, it actually makes you feel good about yourself – which is saying a lot for junk food.

First, you must put on a Jolie Holland record – her voice is sufficiently melancholy and dragging in husky notes of realism  yet somehow uplifting and wholesome. You feel satisfied in your need to wallow in the murkiness of your spirit while not weighted down by it. It’s quite perfect.

Next, you put the kettle on (when its raining and gray and indescribably chilly for being 65 degrees it seems appropriate to feign Britishness), because a good cup of strong black tea can cure nearly anything according to the British Grandmother that I wish I had. (A strange tangential note – if your relatives don’t quite live up to your expectations, just invent them and put invented words in their mouths. No one will know the difference and eventually you won’t either).

While your tea is steeping to reach the sufficient blackness of your spirit and mood, make the gamasio (note: if you aren’t a health obsessed foodie like myself, you will need to stock your kitchen ahead of time with these ingredients so that when a popcorn day hits, you will be prepared). Heat a small skillet on medium heat and add a good handful each of sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Stir them frequently until they begin to take on a toasty golden hue and smell delicious. Pour the seeds into a bowl and let cool a moment, then add them to a spice grinder with a few tablespoons of course sea salt. Pulse it a few times to very coarsely break things up, then pour into a jar with a good handful of dulse, wakame or kelp flakes and a few tablespoons of dried nettle leaf. Mix it all together well and taste for salt content, adding more if you deem necessary.

Now,  put a pan on the burner. Add a few heaped spoonfuls of ghee, and 1-2 tsp of turmeric or curry powder and let the powder dissolve into the ghee, stirring occasionally. When you splash a drop of water in and it sizzles, you know you’re ready for action.

Add a good handful or two of popcorn. I tend to sway towards the one handful arena, because with popcorn, a person generally doesn’t stop until the bowl is empty. Your brain won’t notice much in the difference between 4 and 12 cups of popcorn besides a slight time difference in reaching the bottom of the bowl. If you’re in such a mood that you actually feel like sharing, then make enough for everyone to have their own bowl (trust me, the fight for those last salty dregs at the bottom of the bowl won’t be pretty). If you’re not in the sharing mood, that’s just fine too.

Shake the pan around a bit to coat the kernels in the oil spice mix, then put the cover on. While you wait for the pop pop pop to begin, sit and think amount about how healthy your snack will be. For one, popcorn is mostly just air and some fiber. Each cup provides a scant 55 calories and a gram of fiber (4% of your daily intake for an average person).  But the popcorn is really just the vehicle for the anti-inflammatory turmeric, nutrient dense gomasio and healthy fats of the ghee and pumpkin seeds. Turmeric, as you may have heard, is a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It has been found to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. The seaweed and nettles are nutrient dense and boost your mineral and vitamin intake for the day, providing you with B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and hard to get trace minerals like chromium and zinc that will make almost every part of your body (from bones and skin to your nerves) happy. The pumpkin and sesame seeds also boost your zinc intake, as well as your calcium, iron and magnesium, and provide healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Shake the pan around a few times when you start hearing the popping. Every few moments or so, give the pan a rigorous jerk pack and forth to be sure that those delicate white kernels aren’t burning. Once the popping begins to slow to an occasional pop-pop rather than a steady beat of popping, shake the pan one last time and turn off  the heat, letting it stand for a few moments to give an opportunity to those last few late bloomers.

Pour the popcorn in a large bowl. Now, take a good spoonful of ghee and drizzle it over the popcorn. In case the idea of slathering your popcorn in ghee seems like it might spoil the healthful guise I’ve created, refer back to me ghee post. Ghee is full of good fats, lacks the irritating proteins and sugars found in milk and butter, and is chocked full of antioxidants. Drizzle on a little more for good measure…yum.

Now, liberally sprinkle your gomasio mix over the popcorn, adding a good size handful or more. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon (or better yet your hands), until every kernel is slathered in ghee and the gomasio is equally dispersed. Lick your fingers and carry the bowl and your hot cup of tea to a comfortable spot. Pick up a good book or turn on your most favorite vegging out movie or show, and indulge, trying not to shove too many pieces in your mouth at the same time.

So, while you started off on a track to nowhere good, you are now sitting on the couch satisfying your need for something indulgent and junk-food like while simultaneously delivering your body a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, fiber, good fats, and anti-oxidants. Not bad. There’s nothing quite like the blissful abandon into indulgence paired with the smug satisfaction of doing something good for yourself.